Hambantota Port deal: Renegotiation only by mutual consent – Official
Posted on November 30th, 2019

By Sulochana Ramiah MohanCourtesy Ceylon Today

China Merchants Port Holdings Company Ltd. which owns an 85 per cent stake in Hambantota Port – given to them on a 99-year lease agreement, has said the port deal was between two sovereign countries and renegotiating it can only be done through mutual consent.

A senior official of the Hambantota International Port Group Ltd. (HIPG), who wished to remain anonymous, said that only a commercial agreement can be revisited and renegotiated, but not an agreement signed between two sovereign countries. 

He said that can only be possible if there is mutual consent and understanding.

Last week, in a television interview with an India Security Expert, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said it was unfortunate that the previous Government gave the Hambantota International Port to the Chinese on a 99-year lease and that he would renegotiate it. Reportedly the Chinese are confused and are wondering what the outcome will be.

It is said there will be huge sum to be repaid to the Chinese even if there is a mutual consent to reduce the 99-year lease contract.  

When the Colombo Port City project was halted in 2015 right after Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe administration was formed, the China Communication Construction Company, which handled the project’s land reclamation, claimed USD 143 million in compensation for delaying the USD 1.4 billion project.

 In the end the previous Government gave the Chinese additional acreage of the reclaimed land as compensation.

The official said he cannot comment further on the President’s opinion but stressed that they have seen reports and the interview and are waiting for a full official statement in the coming days.

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority, which owns only a 15 per cent stake in HIPG, identified restructuring the Hambantota Port and transforming it to become a commercially-viable national asset.

President Rajapaksa told the interviewee, Nitin Gokhale, “Even though China is a good friend of ours and we need their assistance to develop. I’m not afraid to say that it  was a mistake”.

The President went on to say that he will ask the Chinese to renegotiate and come up with a better deal to assist his Government.

He noted that Sri Lanka’s relationship with China, during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure, was purely commercial, adding that geopolitical analysts have over exaggerated the relationship.  

“Even Hambantota Harbour, they tried to show was part of the ‘String of Pearls’ circling India. But in our scheme of things it was not so. 

The requirement was ours, we understood that we should have never given control of the port to China. So that was a mistake… Today people are not happy about the deal. We can think of one year, two years, five years, we have to think of the future; what will happen,” he said.

He said that giving a small land for investment is different to giving an installation of strategic importance such as a harbour, “To develop a hotel or a commercial property is not a problem, that’s not an issue.

 Given away a strategically and economically important harbour is not acceptable; that we should have control over. We have to renegotiate. 

Giving a terminal for an operation is a different thing, giving some location to build a hotel is different, but not the control of a very important place; it is not acceptable.”

However, he pointed that he is willing to deal with China as well, “India is working closely with China. I know Indian investment goes to China and Chinese investment comes to China.

 Similarly, we want investments and help, but we will not do anything that would get us involved in military and geopolitical rivalry.

 I also want to mention that world powers like India, Singapore, Japan, Australia and the like, are afraid of Chinese involvement, and that’s the reality. 

We are a small country and we want foreign investment to improve our economy. So I invite India, Singapore, Japan and Australia to come and invest here; don’t just allow only China to invest.”

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